03 July, 2012

Branching out - Big Storm on the New Gold Mountain

This week-end saw us spend the night in Ballarat - a place I have been to on and off my entire life. In keeping with the accepted stereotype, it was cold and wet which somewhat limited photographic opportunities.
Despite this, I did still manage to snap a few shots of the Yarrowee River as it runs through town on its way down to join the Barwon at Inverleigh (by which time it has become the Leigh). At this point, I know very little about the Yarrowee and what I've seen so far isn't impressive. This poor river as it runs through Ballarat is little more than an open drain.
Grant Street bridge over the bluestone-lined Yarrowee River
A quick history lesson courtesy of my other good friend Mr Wiki, informs me that the Yarrowee was prone to flooding, causing problems for the initial inhabitants of the township of Ballarat. This was remedied in 1877 when a dam was built out of town at Gong Gong near the river's headwaters which also supplied water for the town.
The Yarrowee River looking upstream from Grant Street towards town and
the confluence with Canadian Creek
During the gold rush era the river through Ballarat was used not only a supply of drinking water but also provided water for the mines as well as itself being mined for alluvial gold. Problems at this time with erosion and flooding saw much of the watercourse through town lined with bluestone. These stone-lined channels can still be seen across the city, not only along the Yarrowee but also along the several creeks which feed into the river as it passes through the suburbs.
The same view as above on a nicer day
During the early 20th century, the river became very polluted as industry grew and then in the 1960s, the river through the CBD was rerouted and completely sealed over so that it now runs through an underground channel along Grenville St before re-emerging downstream near Dana St.
View from Grant St looking down river
In more recent times there has been a push to improve river health, including the construction of wetlands which naturally filter the stormwater running into the river. This is not a new idea. The largest and best known wetland associated with the Yarrowee through Ballarat is of course Lake Wendouree which was constructed during the gold rush days from the area known as Yuille's Swamp after Archibald Buchanan Yuille, an early squatter who built his home on the edge of the swamp.
"Lake" Wendouree in May, 2007 during the drought with Mt Buninyong
in the distance
At this point it might also be of interest to provide definitions for a few names, most of which come from the local Wathaurong clan of Boro gundidj. The name Ballarat - originally Balla arat - is thought to have meant "resting place". Wendouree is a corruption of the Wathaurong word wendaaree meaning "go away". Legend has it that this was the response given by a local tribeswoman when asked by William Cross Yuille (brother of Archibald) what the name of the place was.
The origins of the name Yarrowee however are not so clear. It seems to be most commonly held that the name was given to the river by the Scottish settlers to the district who named it after Yarrow Water, a river in Scotland. However while we were in town we dropped in to the Gold Museum at Sovereign Hill. Here I found an alternative explanation. It was suggested that Yarrowee is in fact a Wathaurong word meaning "big storm".
Other names from the region reflect the influx of peoples of all nationalities to the goldfields. A tributary of the Yarrowee I mentioned earlier is Canadian Creek. Out of town and south west of Buninyong (a Wathaurong word meaning "man lying on his back with his knee raised" - yes, really!) is Scotchman's Lead.
One ethnic group who represented a quarter of those on the goldfields but who were intensely disliked by the other miners were the Chinese. Whilst their presence is not prominently reflected in today's place names, I do know that the Chinese referred to the Victorian gold diggings as "The New Gold Mountain" - the other being the diggings in California - and hence the title of this blog post.
As I said, no spectacular photography for this post, but hopefully I will soon rectify this with some photos of the more rural parts of the river.

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